Stress and the Body
Stress is a factor in every workplace. Occupations with increased physical risk and exposure to psychological distress are highest on the list; however, any job with demanding deadlines, pressures to perform, and little control over one's own time holds potential to make the place we spend the majority of our waking hours very unpleasant. So, it follows that stress management should play an important role in any comprehensive, preventive-health plan.
But whereas chronic stress is harmful to one's health, small doses of stress are actually good for us. Think of how we human beings spend copious amounts of money on activities like roller coasters, outdoor adventures, and particularly in the month of October, things that scare the wee out of us such as haunted houses and horror films. These examples of "thrill seeking" are pleasing to us because they tap into our natural fight-or-flight response and cause a release of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones), but occur in environments that feel overall safe, where we feel some degree of control. (You know the odds are in your favor that the roller coaster will stay on the tracks, and that isn't really Jason Voorhees behind that hockey mask.) These things are also over relatively quickly. Any time you take a little risk for fun, or put yourself out there, so to speak, to pursue a goal, this is a type of beneficial stress known as eustress. However, if we stay in this fight-or-flight state--if stress becomes chronic--then we are in the opposite state of eustress, known as distress. And this is where harmful, longterm effects creep in.
But there are things we can do to avoid staying on the "stress treadmill." Life is full of stressors, and this is never going to change, but how we choose to deal with them is largely up to us. We can choose to be present. We can choose to engage in healthy behaviors that make breaking harmful patterns much easier. And one of the keys to managing day-to-day stress is so-called "mind/body exercise," a primary example being yoga.
In a 2012 American College of Sports Medicine article, kinesiology professor Jan Schroeder explains mind/body exercise this way: "For some individuals, creating a kinesthetic awareness (understanding where your body is in space during movement) is sufficient enough. However, for others, a spiritual component is important. In these formats, spirituality does not equate to religion but the gaining of a deeper level of consciousness." Take a yoga class and what will the instructor always remind you? It is your practice. Whether it has some deeper spiritual meaning or not will vary from person to person. Regardless, mind/body exercise such as tai chi, Pilates, and yoga are ideal for anyone in a stressful environment, because they encourage one to breathe, to stretch, to push oneself in a controlled way. And this type of exercise is particularly well suited for the workplace.
A typical yoga class can be held just about anywhere. Any old empty space will do. Minimal light equipment is needed. And unlike some classes that are always done at top volume and intensity, yoga is quiet and restorative. An onsite yoga class is an ideal, midday respite from the workplace grind.
Another practical advantage to yoga and other forms of mind/body exercise in the workplace is that, unless we are talking hot yoga, these group-exercise classes do not typically cause one to get all hot and sweaty. Therefore, you use 45 minutes of your lunch hour to exercise, throw your clothes back on and run a comb through your hair, and you are good to go!
Finally, a typical yoga class is going to yield results in one area that we, men especially, really begin to struggle with around middle age: range of motion. Without functional range of motion, we end up with bad posture, improper body mechanics, and potentially a host of other orthopedic problems that can limit us more and more as we reach retirement age. This is not a good path to be on. And the hobbies and activities we miss out on due to limited range of motion only add to unhealthy stress levels.
What You Can Do
Foundation Wellness offers mind/body exercise, yoga and Pilates included, onsite at businesses and organizations across the Greater Nashville area. If you would like to see yoga added at your workplace, see the Getting Started page on fwnashville.com, and reach out to us for more information.
Consider giving yourself and your colleagues regular wellness breaks through mind/body exercise. It's one of the best investments you can make in your seven dimensions of wellness.